2016: Both Love and Darkness

On February 4, 2016, I started this blog not really knowing where it would take me, but simply knowing that I wanted to write. Now, on December 31, 2016, with 2017 looming just a few hours ahead, I’m reflecting back on the journey that this blog and my life took over the past year. It’s been a challenging year, but an amazing one. I have a lot to be thankful for.

That phrase “I have a lot to be thankful for” is one I’ve had to remind myself to think about and meditate on many times during this year. Yes, great joy and excitement found its way into my life in 2016–graduating from high school, reading a life changing book, traveling to Tanzania, starting a new chapter at Temple University–but this narrative is also woven with stories of sadness. Some days brought struggles, others brought celebrations. It’s been a whirlwind of a year and even though I’m thankful, I’m also ready to start over.

I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say to the world today… I feel like people expect New Years posts to be inspiring and motivating. Maybe mine will be. But really I just hope it’s an honest reflection of who I’ve become this past year. And I really, really like the person that 2016 made me to be.

Any way I try to describe 2016 always ends up having to do with If You Feel Too Much. Written by Jamie Tworkowski, the founder of To Write Love on Her Arms, this book truly changed the way I view myself and the world around me. Reading this collection of stories was one of those weird divine moments when I knew I should read it, but didn’t think I had time, then when I finally “made” time it broke me in the most beautiful way, and I ended up reading it right when I needed to. A lot of this post will relate to this book.

(1. If you haven’t read If You Feel Too Much, READ IT! Make it a New Years’ Resolution. Please. 2. Maybe you’re wondering “what’s To Write Love on Her Arms?” Good question. I thought it was a weird name at first too. To Write Love on Her Arms is a nonprofit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and invest directly into treatment and recovery. I copied that statement from their website–twloha.org.)

Some positive stuff happened this year. I’ll write about a few of the highlights. One that sticks out to me is when I fell in love with Temple University and thank God I did. I have loved every moment of my life there thus far. The people and place embody everything I hoped to find in a college. If you’d told me a year ago I’d go to Temple, I wouldn’t have believed you. So funny and perfect how things work out the way we need them to. (If you’re a high school senior currently stressing about applications and decisions,  I promise that things will work out and your heart will find its college home. :))

I traveled. I traveled well. I went with 19 others to a rather unknown part of Tanzania, to the tiny village of Mababu in the southwestern part of the country. Something in my heart shifted the moment I arrived there. The kindness and generosity of the Tanzanian people is unmatched. The children had nothing but still smiled beautifully like they had everything. It was a wake up call to love others more, to consider the impact of my actions, and to also think twice about where I buy my chocolate (Now? Askinosie only.). The people I traveled with were incredible and inspired me in ways I could never articulate. Mababu might be tiny in size but if that village’s love was a land mass it would be the whole size of the globe.

I wrote. I really wrote. I poured my heart out into blog entries, journal pages, love poems, and the margins of novels that spoke to my soul. I started writing for an online site Fresh U not knowing where it would take me–simply wanting to be engaged with politics and writing in a more constructive way. I’m the national News Director now. It’s fun and an honor. I am blessed to write, and I hope my writing encourages others to write, or at least encourages them to find something that makes them as happy as writing makes me.

I’m forcing myself to limit the negativity of this year to a mere paragraph. It’s not that I really want to write more about the darker parts of this year, but I certainly could if someone asked me to. The biggest sadness that sticks out to me was losing a friend. Drug overdose. Some say accident, some say suicide, I say it’s more than giving it a label. Austin’s death shook me to my core, and not simply because he was a friend, but because I know what it feels like to be in that dark of a place. Another thing about this year. Depression. This is where the honesty of this blog comes into play–I have never ever admitted this to more than literally 2 people. But I think it’s important and we need to end the stigma. It crept up on me when I wasn’t looking and turned my thoughts black with each passing day. I’ve dealt with it before but this year was harder. I’m leaving that in 2016. 2017 will be new. P.S. I feel better now. Speaking Spanish and being told I was loved helped.

Through all of this, there is no doubt in my mind that God was working in my life this year. I tell people a lot that I can never not believe in God; there’s too much evidence of Him to me personally. But my views on religion have shifted quite a lot in the past two years. Recently when people ask what I believe I haven’t know what to say. I remembered a phrase from Jamie’s book and I think he puts it perfectly: “I’ve become embarrassed by most things ‘Christian’, but I still believe in a God who loves people.” So that’s the definition I’ve started abiding by. I think it suits me well.

In that February 4 blog post that started it all, I encouraged everyone reading to fill up their 2016 days by loving others no matter what the differences between you are. Did you do that? I hope you did. I tried to. I listened when others told me they couldn’t believe in my God, I heard friends explain situations in their lives that I could never comprehend having to endure, I cared when Donald Trump voters explained their reasoning to me. Best of all I tended to my heart when it broke, for good reasons and bad, and I became a better person because of it. My 2016 would have been a whole lot more empty without love in it. I hope you feel the same way.

Okay world, this is it. My attempt at a thoughtful and inspiring last hurrah to 2016–a year of challenges and darkness but also a year of finding the light and feeling the love. I’ll leave you with a quote from If You Feel Too Much that defined my year (and will probably soon find its way into a tattoo on my skin):

“Maybe this is okay, maybe this is the way that I was made, to feel things, to say things.”

This year, more than any other year, I felt deeply and decided to say something about it. I kept telling myself, “it’s okay to feel, it’s the way that you were made.” You were made to do the same, and I hope that 2017 brings feelings of joy and love to you and yours. Happy New Year.

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